Digital entertainment is becoming very popular and people don’t want to sit in front of a computer to watch it. Recently several devices have come out that give you the ability to show video, music and pictures from your computer on your TV. The EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD from Netgear is one of those products.
- Streams HD videos, music, Internet radio and digital photos from your home PCs and storage devices to your HDTV
- Automatically finds all the digital media files on your home network and organizes them into an easily accessible library
- Easy set-up using an on-screen TV wizard for a fun entertainment experience
- High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) for HD video resolution up to 1080p
The Digital Entertainer HD’s main purpose is to play your media files from your computer to your TV without them being in the same room. To do this the Digital Entertainer HD uses several different ways to get to your files. The most used will probably be by networking with computers or storage devices. Another way to get files is to plug a device directly into the Digital Entertainer HD. The Digital Entertainer HD will play files stored in Windows (FAT, FAT32, NTFS), Macintosh, or Linux disk formats. It does not matter if you set up the music player on a PC or a Mac. You can even play files directly off an MP3 player like an iPod.
The Digital Entertainer HD supports high definition playback of Windows Media Video 9 or MPEG-4 file formats at up to 1080p resolution on your HDTV. The Digital Entertainer HD also supports Windows Media DRM (WMDRM10) to playback protected downloaded content from major online services. This requires Windows Media Connect (WMC) server software or Windows Media Player 11.
Using two or more Digital Entertainer HDs in different rooms, you can synchronize music throughout the house (Party Mode) or pause a video in your living room and resume it in another room with the Follow Me feature
With a TV tuner card installed in your PC, the Digital Entertainer HD can schedule recordings and pause and rewind live TV from your living room.
If you plug your USB flash drive, digital camera, iPod, or other USB storage device directly into the Digital Entertainer HD you will instantly have access to all the stored digital media on your HDTV.
Use the remote control and TV to view and access your PC desktop and applications like email or web browser.
The Digital Entertainer HD comes packaged nicely in a box with all the cables and software that you will need to get up and running. In the box are the EVA8000, a remote, PC software, component cables, composite cables and documentation.
The Digital Entertainer HD is designed to fit in with the rest of your entertainment center devices. It fits the same width and length as most of your other devices so that it can be stacked.
The front of the Digital Entertainer HD is fairly bare except for a power button on the left and a USB, headphone, and IR port on the right. The USB connector on the front can be used to connect a hard drive, or MP3 player like an iPod.
The back of the Digital Entertainer HD is where all the output connectors are and you have every available option for connecting to a TV and stereo. As you can see from the image below there are video connectors for composite, S-Video, component, and HDMI. For sound you have composite S/PDIF, Coaxial S/PDIF, Optical, and HDMI. You also have other connectors on the back for Ethernet, USB, two wireless antennas and a SCART port. If you don’t know what a SCART port is used for, then don’t worry about it. It is mainly used in Europe and Australia for connecting to a TV. There is also a reset button on the back so that you can get the device back to factory default settings.
The remote is full of all sorts of buttons that you can use to navigate the menus with. The top half of the remote has the buttons that will probably be used the most because they are the navigation buttons for both the menus and the media that you play. Right in the middle are four shortcut keys that can be used to quickly jump to one of the sections, like pics or music. Below those buttons are the number and letter keys. These will be used to type in URLs and search words for YouTube and Flickr searches.
There were a few specific things that I was looking for with this device. I already have a media center extender which is mainly used to watch and record TV. The media center extender does a really good job, so for the the Digital Entertainer HD to compete, it will have to be really easy to use and record great video. The extender can also show my pictures and play my MP3’s. It cannot however play protected music or any video that it did not record. The extender is also limited to connecting to one computer at a time and that computer must be a media center computer. So for this review I was looking for a device that could overcome a lot of the limitations that the extender has.
Setting up the Digital Entertainer HD is not difficult, but you have to answer quite a few questions like your language, screen resolution, and zip code. At one point it asks you to install some software on your computer, but that step is not required.
Installing the software on your computer adds a little extra functionality. Features like watching TV and YouTube videos require the software. Watching and recording TV also requires that you have a TV tuner card in your computer. Part of the setup also creates thumbnails for pictures and shares directories that have content you want to show on the EVA8000. I did not mind sharing my directories, but one benifit of the media center extender is that you don’t have to share directories.
Once it is setup you are shown the main menu. From here you can get to all the options like watching live TV, YouTube videos, looking at pictures and listening to music.
The first option on the menu and the first thing I tried was watching various types of video. When you click on the TV / Video menu you may see two or three options. If you have a TV tuner card installed in your computer and you installed the EVA8000 software you will see the TV Tuner option. I installed a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 about a year ago so I see the TV tuner option. At first when I tried this I was not having any success. After reading the instructions better I found that I had to enable the TV viewing in the settings before it would work. After enabling the option I was able to see the TV, but it was very choppy and unviewable. So I put off testing this feature until after an upgrade or something. After the latest upgrade the video does look better, but there is a lot of pixilization when there is fast motion and scene changes. Despite the pixilization I was able to watch the TV without any problem. My Media Center Extender did not suffer from any of the above problems.
After the TV Tuner test I moved on to the recorded video menu. Recorded Video will play all your AVI, WMV, MPEG- 1, 2 and 4 files, including XviD, DivX, and even H.264. I only had a couple of XviD files on my computer so I copied them to a network share and played them on the EVA8000. The videos played really well. I was even able to fast forward and rewind without many problems. I did have several problems with playing back videos. One of the problems that I had was if I stopped a video I had to start it all over. The other problem was that the menu for the videos does not show directories. This means there is no way to organize your videos except by giving each one a different name. My Madia Center Extender cannot play any external video.
In addition to playing the other types of video, the EVA8000 has the ability to play unencrypted DVD files, but because of the organization problem I mentioned above it is difficult to tell each movie apart. All you really see is a huge list of VOB files that all have the same name. The DVD playing features also does not support DVD menus, so finding the right VOB file becomes even more difficult because some of them may be previews and not the actual movie. If you are going to use this to watch backed-up DVD’s I recommend encoding them with XviD and giving them a name you can understand. My Media Center Extender also cannot play DVDs.
The next option down the list is YouTube videos. To play YouTube videos you first have to find one and this can be harder than it seems. From the menu the first three options are for recent searches, favorite videos, and favorite users, but you cannot use those until you have searched and added users and videos to your favorites list. It would be nice if you could log into your YouTube account from here and see the favorites you marked from the web. The next two options, search tags and search user’s videos seem like they would be straight forward, but they are not. Searching the tags is like searching through categories, which is not useful to me. You would think that searching the user’s videos would be like searching on the website, but it is not. When I type in justechn on the website I get a list of all the videos I have submitted for my reviews. When I type in justechn on the EVA8000 I don’t get anything. Mostly,I just use the Top option to see the most popular. Even after I find a video and I try to watch it, it only plays sometimes. Often it will say buffering, but after a bit it quits like it was finished and asks if I want to add the video or the user to my favorites. When the video does play it looks ok, but not something you would want to keep. Playing YouTube videos is also something my Media Center Extender cannot do.
Music is the next thing to test. As long as you have music in your share this should not be a problem. The music playing menu is very straight-forward. I did not have any trouble playing music. It was even able to pull up the album art and track information. Once a song has started playing it will continue to do so even while you navigate to other things. This is great for setting up slide shows with music. Internet Radio is also listed under this menu. This option will go out to the Internet and pull down a huge list of Internet radio stations. The quality of the broadcast is displayed when you select a radio station and this is great because the quality of each station can vary greatly. My Media Center Extender can play MP3s, and it cannot play internet radio, but to make up for that it can play FM radio if you have a tuner installed in your computer. Luckly, my TV tuner came with an FM tuner.
Picture viewing is also another one of those things that is easy to do, you only need to make sure that you are sharing some pictures. The EVA8000 only supports JPEG, BMP, PNG and TIFF images. You can choose how long to keep a picture on screen, and choose from several transition effects, like fade, slide, zoom etc. You have several options when viewing pictures, like by year, folder and much more. The one annoyance that I found was that when the slide show is going you cannot change the music without having to go back to the music menu and change it there. That seems like a lot of work if you just wanted to do something simple like move ahead to the next song. In addition, I found that the music would often get distorted while playing. There are several reasons that this could happen, but I am guessing it was network congestion or something like that. The Media Center Extender can show pictures and it does it really well.
One thing you will want to keep in mind is the amount of time it takes for the EVA8000 to check for new music and pictures. I have about 1800 MP3’s and about 7500 pictures that I was sharing with the Digital Entertainer HD and it took about 30 minutes to index them all. One other thing about scanning for pictures and MP3s. If you start a scan you must let it finish otherwise you loose all your previously scanned media. So make sure you are ready to devote the full amount of time to a scan before you start one.
I next wanted to test the schedule recordings, but I was unable because of one major glitch. The Electronic Program Guide requires a key and I could not find anywhere to get one. I checked the user guide and it talked about needing the key, but it referred me to another section in the guide that did not exist. I also checked the website, but there was no mention of a key. I currently have a case open with Netgear support, but it has been about a week without a response. I think this is just a feature that they have not finished yet. With the Media Center Extender the guide works really well and it is free.
Internet media is where you will find Internet music and YouTube. It is a little bit redundant because YouTube is also under the TV / Video menu and Internet Radio is under the Music menu. The other two options are Flickr photos and RSS news and podcasts. RSS feeds work great, but it is a real pain to get them added. Fortunately, the Digital Entertainer HD comes with a list of preconfigured RSS feeds. To add an RSS feed you have to manually type in the URL and a name for each one. Entering in a long URL with only the remote is not a fun task. Fortunately, you can enter the URL’s by using the EVA8000 web interface. All you need to do is point your browser at the IP address that is assigned to the Digital Entertainer HD. I will talk about that more later.
The News / Weather also lists RSS news and podcasts along with weather and weather maps. The weather feature would not work for me, but I was able to see the weather maps. The maps are small and low resolution. I was hoping that you could zoom in on areas or limit it just to your local area, but I could not find a way. You are only able to see the few maps that are listed in the menu.
The More menu lists a lot of system settings. Things like scanning for new media, PC Access, and follow me. Any time you add new media to a share and you want to be able to get it on your EVA8000 you will have to start a new scan. The PC access feature is for getting a remote desktop connection to a computer on your network. This option is only available if you have the Digital Entertainer HD software installed on a computer and the remote desktop option turned on. It is suppose to be used for checking your email and sending quick messages. Anything more and you would need a keyboard and mouse to quickly navigate and type long messages. As you can see from the picture below this feature is useless for me because the resolution on my computer makes it so the text is unreadable when displayed on my TV. The Follow Me feature is when you have more than one EVA8000 and you want the music or movie to transfer from one room to another when you move around. There is also the ability to update the system. As updates come out I highly recommend that you download them so that you can get the latest bug fixes and functionality.
In case you are away from your home or you just don’t want to enter long URLs with a remote you can access most of the features of the EVA8000 from the web. The web interface is very basic and is really only useful for adding new items to the RSS feeds and other minor tasks. Scheduling recording could also be done from the web, but because I was unable to get a key, I could not test this. You can view pictures and listen to music through this interface, but I do not recommend it because it is extremely slow.
After all is said and done, there was one glaring problem that I found happening a lot. If I left the EVA8000 on for a long time without using it then it would lock up and I would have to unplug it before it would work again. I did not want to use the reset button because that removes all my settings and puts everything back to factory settings.
Warranty and Support
The Netgear Digital Entertainer HD EVA8000 comes with a 1 year limited liability warranty. This warranty only covers defects in workmanship and not damage that may have been caused in shipping or from misuse. You can find out more about the warranty here. Support for the warranty can be received either online or over the phone. Phone support is only free for 90 days after the purchase of the product. You can find out more about support here.
Netgear Digital Entertainer HD EVA8000 has a lot of potential and when the bugs are worked out I think it will be a very useful product. At this point it is about 80% functional and 20% annoying. I think Netgear has a long way to go, but most of it is with user interface and incomplete features. One of the things that Netgear could do is get rid of the Internet media menu. All the options in that menu appear in other menus so it is completely redundant. I am also disappointed that Netgear would require a separate purchase of a key for the Electronic Programming Guide. After spending $350 you would think that Netgear could at least give its customers a 1 year trial. The Digital Entertainer HD is a bit expensive, you could buy a cheap computer for the $399 that this retails for. I have found it for cheaper and as time goes on I am sure there will be discounts and rebates to help the cost not be so high. As always compare prices before purchasing.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|